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Comparative Analysis of Territorial Governance and Spatial Planning Systems in Europe (ESPON COMPASS)
Client:ESPON EGTC
Partner(s):European Project Consortium of 8 Partners and others, led by University of Delft
Time frame:06/2016 – 05/2018

In the late 1990’s the European Commission published the ‘EU Compendium on Spatial Planning Systems and Policies’ which covered the 15 EU member states at that time. Since then, the EU has expanded to 28 member states and there have been significant developments in pan-European territorial and cohesion policies. Territorial governance and spatial planning systems have now evolved to become one of the key components of integrated cross-sectoral development strategies and policy delivery mechanisms among ESPON member and partner states. There are no legally EU binding tools for a European spatial development policy. National governments are therefore under no obligation to implement strategic spatial concepts such as the European Spatial Development Perspective, the Territorial Agenda 2020 etc. Nevertheless, many countries and regions in Europe are gradually adapting their territorial governance and spatial planning systems in order to reflect the continuing advancements and complexities of macro-level EU cohesion and growth policies. There are numerous reasons for this, including, for example, the need to maximise European funding opportunities, limit land-take and promote polycentric and compact urban development patterns in response to EU climate change, energy and sustainable transport policies. Furthermore, EU Directives, such as the Habitats Directive, Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive or Water Framework Directive, are obligatory and indirectly influence territorial and spatial governance. Spatial planning systems are embedded in the socio-economic, political and cultural contexts of individual countries and regions which can potentially constrain the scope for mutual learning unless comparisonis made with countries and regions with similar trends and structures. It is clear that territorial cohesion, aiming at voluntary coordination and networking of actors, is strongly related to territorial governance and more and more becoming a matter of transforming physical space and cross-cutting spatial and sectoral integration. The extent to which EU metagovernance discourses have created a catalytic environment resulting in the so called ‘Europeanisation’ of domestic spatial planning systems and whether or not there is convergence or divergence has been the subject of much debate. A key criticism of the Europe 2020 strategy is that it is ‘spatially blind’ and lacking any territorial focus. The Sixth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion published in 2014 highlights the need for better territorial governance; the ‘Barca Report’ calls for a “place-based” approach to territorial development; while TA2020 suggest the need to “cross-fertilise” Europe 2020 with spatial planning policies. As a consequence, there is a strong policy demand to revisit this issue and to undertake an updated systematic comparative analysis of territorial governance and spatial planning systems across Europe in order to examine commonalities and differences of approach, and for further developing the territorial dimension of cohesion policies. Main research questions are:

  • What changes in territorial governance and spatial planning systems and policies can be observed across Europe over the past 15 years? Can these changes be attributed to the influence of macro-level EU directives and policies?
  • What are best-practices for cross-fertilisation of spatial and territorial development policies with EU Cohesion Policy?
  • How can national/regional spatial and territorial development policy perspectives be better reflected in Cohesion Policy and other policies at the EU scale?


The projects’ results will be:

  • A structured comparative analysis of territorial governance and spatial planning systems in all 28 EU Member States plus the 4 ESPON Partner States.
  • A qualitative analysis of the praxis of spatial planning and territorial governance and their relationship, in practice, between strategies and outcomes.
  • An in depth analysis of the role of EU Cohesion Policy and other macro-level EU policies in shaping territorial governance and spatial planning systems and their impacts in concrete practice.
  • Case studies of best-practices in cross-fertilising EU Cohesion Policy and spatial planning, including at least one case study in a cross-border/transnational context.
  • Pan European maps illustrating and analysing the national/regional spatial planning strategies of all 28 EU Member States plus the 4 ESPON Partner States (where possible).

Further information and project reports here.



Project leader:
  • Dr. Mario Reimer

Project team:

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